Unfair practice at Harris County grand jury?

That's what local civil rights activists say regarding the use of a police shooting simulator for grand jurors
February 20, 2014 4:29:02 PM PST
Controversy is brewing over a police shooting simulation offered to Harris County grand jurors. A local group claims the simulation is one sided and could bias jurors.

The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, an umbrella organization of more than two dozen civil rights groups, says it believes the county's use of shooting simulation programs has the potential to brainwash the grand jury. They're hoping a petition can help put the practice to an end.

"There must be grand jury reform, and we need it now," said Augustine Pinedo with League of United Latin American Citizens.

The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice held a news conference Thursday, blasting the Harris County DA's office for allowing shooting simulations to be shown to grand jury members before handling cases involving use of force as self defense.

"How can grand jurors be expected to look at a case impartially, when they start their term by watching a one-sided simulator?" community activist Johnny Mata said.

The coalition argues allowing the simulator taints indictments of police officers in Harris County. They're also calling the grand jury selection process discriminatory to people of color, women and poor whites.

"Some courts use a commissioner to select grand jurors, and they often select grand jurors from a pool of retired police officers, probation officers and other people in the criminal justice system," Pinedo said.

Julian Ramirez, chief of the Harris County DA's Office's Civil Rights Division, calls the coalition's claims misinformed.

"The simulator has had no effect on the number of police officers who have been indicted by Harris County grand juries," Ramirez said.

Ramirez says in the 10 years Harris County's used simulators, three officers have been indicted -- the same amount of officers indicted by grand juries in the 10 years prior to using the tool.

And as to the coalition's questions about those appointed to the grand jury...

"To say that grand juries are largely or mostly composed of law enforcement or former law enforcement is not true," Ramirez said.

The coalition says it will be asking the DA's office for a meeting to discuss some of its concerns.

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